The window at her apartment presented Malati with a bird’s eye view of the Cyber city part of Hyderabad. The high rise buildings scattered across the land were arranged in a symmetric fashion and looked like a building-block miniature. The complex network of serpentine flyovers with endless roads beneath them appeared like a confusing maze like formation, though which the traffic was flowing in and out like disciplined ants walking through the forest. The mundane rush of the citizens, their sophisticated ways of city-life and the matured dealings, all these visuals reminded Malati of the days when she only dreamt of being a part of it. Ten years ago, graduating from a rural engineering college, she set her foot in this land of opportunities, hoping to get a little lucky, and swung with the mood of time. she didn’t realize that how a rustic town-girl of twenty one took on the challenges of the city, How her oiled and combed hair-style transformed into a bob-cut, how the cotton salwars were replaced by the synthetic cousins and what made this shy engineer, become a Manager in a multi-national company. All these remained like unsolved mysteries in the guarded lap of time for the last ten years. She laughed at herself when the memories of her first visit to Hyderabad dawned on her. She had once lost her way to the women’s hostel and today, a greater world at the United States beckoned her.
The door bell rang bringing Malati back to the present. She rushed to open the door to find Sheeba.
“You are half-hour late…” She said, welcoming her in.
“I am coming directly from work, you see” Sheeba said and hugged her friend and also an ex-colleague.
“You make yourself comfortable; I will order Pizza for us.”
“So, what’s up babe? All set for the travel?” Sheeba questioned while taking a bite of the Mexican delicacy.
“Yeah, almost…but you know, there is always the last minute rush.” Said Malati standing in front of the mirror, grooming her hair.
“But, Sheeba, there is something bothering me.” She said.
“Hmmm, Let me guess? Is it Rohit?”
The answer made Malati motionless for a while, as if trying to understand her own mind by looking at her reflection. She swiftly blinked twice and looked helplessly at her friend.
The mood at the Bar was sluggish. The slow music that was played by a band was reaching to no one’s ears. Across the clusters of tables and chairs in a large room that had a dim lighting, a place somewhere at the last, was conquered by Rohit and his friend, Girish. The table looked full with a half empty bottle of whiskey that catered to two glasses and some empty bottles of soda. With his eyes fixed on Rohit, Girish picked up some peanuts from a plate and started.
“Don’t do this to yourself mama!”
“Look, what if she too is interested in you? What if she too is confused, just like you are?”
Trying to give his depressed friend some hope, Girish held his hand and explained.
“Hey, Listen up! you’ve worked together for the past, how many? .. six years? Right. SIX years of togetherness is not a joke. I can’t think of a day when I didn’t have an argument with my wife and you have successfully WORKED with her for the past six years. Why didn’t you let her know all this time?” Girish asked.
“I tell you again, YOU ARE DUMB and STUPID” Sheeba barked at Malati by raising up from the cane sofa.
“What the hell will go wrong if you tell him first…After all, he has been a good colleague and if I’m not wrong, he is your best friend too. You have seen enough of him in the many years that you have worked together.”
Holding Malati’s face in her palms, Sheeba tried to look in to her watery eyes.
“Babes, you are a girl with ‘One life, One Love’ philosophy and all…don’t just abandon your love.”
After a minute of silence, Sheeba remembered an instance where Malati was prepared to propose to Rohit.
“You said you will tell him last month…what happened then? Didn’t have the guts?”
“NO, I was prepared but things changed dramatically.” Malati started reviling the happenings of the day.
“I was waiting for the right moment to propose him. But one day Rohit received a package by mail and he opened it right in front of me. What came out of the packet were photographs of ‘traditional looking’ girls. It also had a letter. That stupid read it aloud for me.
Amidst the hows, whats and whens, his mom wanted him to choose one among those photos and cautioned him not to get into any relationship with a hi-fi city girl. According to her, a working girl does not ‘suite’ in a family.
My association with Rohit tells me that he respects his mother and can never disregard her wish.” Malati finished and turned back to the mirror.
“AND, you think you are not a suitable choice for Rohit because, you are an ambitious, career conscious, smart and independent girl?
Come on…those girls in the photographs would have just dressed up traditionally only to sell themselves to a marriage proposal. How can one judge a girl just by looking at her photograph?
OR wait…is it getting so much interesting that you don’t want to be the villain between a mother and a son!!” Sheeba spat at her friend.
Looking palely at herself, she said “Moreover, He never tried to do anything that showed his interest in me. I don’t think he is interested in me.”
“What if he is just a rare, well-cultured person who believes in maintaining dignity?” Sheeba questioned again.
“Forget it, it is already late. Now that I am leaving, I don’t want to tangle him in a relationship.” She answered and moved away from the mirror.
“I did try to tell her…” Rohit started opening up.
“After her promotion I knew that she will get transferred to the U.S. that is when I realized that she is walking out of my life. That is when the real feeling of ‘Love’ caught me and it caught me with pain.” He paused for a while to gulp in some whiskey as if it gave him courage to speak further.
“That day, I thought I will propose her. Tucking in courage, I wanted to ask her out for a coffee. But the moment I reached her desk,she yelled at me suddenly. It was nothing to do with me but it was about the breaking news of the hour. She pointed me to an incident where a person invited a female colleague for a coffee and raped her. She was furious over the news so much that she said as I quote
‘why do YOU people think that if a female co-worker is close to you she will give in to any advances…? After all we are here to work and nothing else.’
Her reaction made me abandon my plan.”
“Come on…that would be a common feeling. But why do you link it like this. She should be feeling proud of you that for the many years you worked with her you treated her with dignity.” Girish said.
“Look Giri, I can live with out letting her know my feelings. But just imagine, if I tell her now and if she is not interested in me. She would think that I was having lustful fantasises on her for all this time. Then she would disgust me forever.”
“Look the other side, what if she is interested?” Girish questioned.
Rohit twitched and took a sip from his glass.
“The time is gone! She is leaving to the U.S tomorrow morning. Nothing can be changed now. My love is gone!” He said emptying the contents of his glass.
Just then, Rohit’s mobile beeped at the arrival of an SMS. It was from Malati. Rohit anxiously read it out:
“Hope you will see me off at the Air port. My flight is at 5:00 AM”
The sleepy eyes of Rohit at once gleamed with energy. Girish punched him friendly and said,
“Mama, don’t let this moment slip from your hand. My heart says, she is interested in you…JUST GO FOR IT…”
Rohit called up Malati on reaching at the Air port.
“Where are you? I am here to see you off…” He said over the phone.
“Oh! Is it? That is so sweet of you…” Malati said as if she was not expecting him to come.
“Sheeba! Rohit has come to see me off…” She quickly put her mobile away and said excitedly.
“ok listen Rohit, I am still reaching the air port. Will be there in five minutes. Please wait near the taxi stand.” She said and hung up.
“What is this Sheeba? What is happening?” she said shockingly while Sheeba looked lovingly at her friend’s reaction.
“Babes, Let all your perceptions go to hell, just tell him how you feel…you talk to him, I will take your luggage and wait near the gate. OK?” Sheeba said as the taxi alighted. Waving a casual hi to Rohit, Sheeba left Malati alone with her situation.
“So, you are leaving?” Rohit started with a dumb question.
“Yeah, I guess” Malati was equally dumb with her answer.
“I was saying…hmmmm. What will I do with out you now?” Rohit’s words failed him.
“I must say that…I am the one who is leaving.” Said Malati.
“Can you do this for me?” she said but Rohit interrupted even before she finished.
“Anything for you…anything…” she said.
“Work hard, get a good review, fight if they don’t give you promotion and come to the U.S next year. And tell your mother that I am traditional at heart. It’s just the dressing that makes me look hippy” Malati said shyly.
“What! What do you mean?” But Rohit understood it quickly and answered
”and I am not like the guy who rapes her colleague.” Rohit said but the announcement regarding the boarding process made Malati rush.
“Hey Malati!” Rohit Yelled and she stopped at the distance.
“Thanks for the SMS. I will miss you!” He shouted.
The statement threw Malati in confusion.
“What SMS?” She thought mentally but the thoughts about the boarding process occupied her mind. After she was conveniently seated in the flight, the question again popped into her mind. “What SMS?”
She quickly took out her phone and checked the sent messages list and it was there…a message that was never sent by Malati.
“Sheeba, you Bitch!” She said and laughed to herself.